‘It’s not for everybody, but it worked for me’
With gastric bypass, diet changes she lost 124 pounds
The advice of two doctors and a myriad of health issues led Endsley Givhan Bolen to opt for gastric bypass surgery in a quest to lose weight.
She’s very quick to say it’s an option that’s not right for everybody; an option that’s not without risks; and an option that’s not just an easy way out, as many people think.
But 13 months and 124 pounds after the procedure, she can smile and say, “It feels good.”
“My health improved is the biggest thing,” she said. “My sleep apnea and high blood pressure went away. My foot and knee pain went away. The doctors said I was pre-diabetic. I am no longer pre-diabetic.”
And neither is she home-free. Her goal is to lose 15 more pounds, and she knows that many gastric bypass patients gain their weight back.
“I personally only try to eat when I am actually, physically hungry,” she said. “Just because it’s lunchtime doesn’t mean I eat lunch. I wait until I can feel my blood sugar dropping a little bit, then I’ll eat.
“That is a hard thing to learn,” she said. “I read a book about 12 or 13 years ago, and the author had the philosophy that you will lose weight if you only eat when you’re hungry instead of at meal time.
“That philosophy stuck with me, so I decided to do that to go along with gastric bypass,” she said.
She also is eating healthier, has given up sweet tea, and drinks very few sodas.
“I don’t want sweets and desserts anymore,” she said. “If I want something sweet, I’ll have a bite of something instead of a bag of something. I love vegetables. I drink water all the time. I take a bottle of water with me everywhere, even in church.”
Besides her health issues, there were two “aha moments” that prompted Bolen to look seriously at surgery.
“My Andalusia High School 20-year reunion was in September of 2011 and I had been their homecoming queen. Twenty years later, I was well over 100 pounds overweight.”
“ That was very, very difficult,” she said. “My classmates, the females looked fantastic.”
Everyone was kind to her, she said, but seeing the 20-year-old majorette and homecoming photographs made her realize how much she had changed.
“I also am a huge Disney World fanatic,” she said. “In June of 2011, I got into the Aerosmith’s Rock and Roller coaster. I was not able to get my foot inside the cart.”
There were a few hundred people watching and waiting in line.
“That was another wake-up call,” she said. “You just don’t mess with me and Disney World. But they cannot let you ride if it’s not safe.”
As the single mother of a 9-year-old son, she knew it was important to take care of her health.
“I didn’t want to be in pain all the time anymore, and I wasn’t sleeping,” she recalled. “My doctor said. ‘I suggest we do this.’ “
Then, the doctor said, “Do it soon.”
Bolen chose a program at Sacred Heart Hospital directed by the many who would do her surgery, Dr. Jeffery Lord.
She would advise anyone considering the surgery to research surgeons and consider statistics.
“My surgeon had had zero deaths in 3,500 surgeries,” she said. “He had had two with severe, life-threatening complications.”
But his program required commitment from future patients, too.
Bolen said she spent seven months meeting with a psychologist, a nutritionist, a physician’s assistant and a finance person.
“I benefited from the fact it was an entire program,” she said, adding that she also had to take a couple of exams and attend several seminars before she could be considered for surgery.
“For me, it was a seven-month process,” she said. “But that completely depends on the individual’s insurance.”
For Bolen, who gained almost a pound a month in the 10 years she lived in Charleston. When it happens slowly, she said, people don’t realize there is a problem.
Now she’s almost back to her pre-Charleston weight, and has set a realistic time goal for reaching that milestone.
“I try not to put a lot of emphasis on the number on the scale,” she said. “According to that BMI chart, I’m still obese. But I don’t feel obese and I don’ t look obese. It’s how I feel.”
She and her son, John, went back to Disney World this summer.
“It was the best trip I’ve ever taken,” she said.
This time, she rode the rock and roller coaster with no problems.
“I’m ready for my 30-year reunion now,” she said.
“I can walk without excessive pain in my knees and my feet and my back,” she said. “I’m less self conscious than I was. I went to a water park a few weeks ago, and it felt good. I put on a swim suit that didn’t cover me from my neck to my ankles.”
She also has appeared in a fashion show with other gastric bypass patients in Pensacola and had a ball.
Back at that reunion, “I remember thinking I’m not coming back in 10 years like this,” she said.
Now she realizes it’s not just about how you look.
“People come in all different shapes and sizes,” she said. “God creates people in all different shapes and sizes. I had to get healthy for my son.”
She considers people who lose weight without assistance heroes.
“The people I truly admire, are the people who managed to lose weight on their own,” she said. “I made the best decision for me, but it’s a very personal decision.”
Before she moved home to Alabama, she said, she began attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings.
“It helped me to realize a lot of it is not about food,” she said. “I learned that I was turning to food for comfort. I really benefited from that group. I had to break up with food and tell it goodbye.”
She is almost overly cautious when sharing her story, and doesn’t want to sell it as a quick fix.
“The surgery is just a tool,” she said. “You can gain the weight back. How I use this tool is going to be up to me.
“I feel like I’ve got one shot at this,” she said. “And I’m going to make mistakes. Now I eat a cookie if I want one, I just don’t eat the whole box.
“People are very private about things here, but I chose to be very open,” she said. “This can be a secret, silent deadly thing.
“Every day is a fight for the positive choice,” she said. “It’s a battle I hope to win this time.”